BOISE – Idaho lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to repeal authorization for the slot machine-like “instant racing” machines that have cropped up around Idaho this year, including at the Greyhound Park in Post Falls.
The Idaho House’s 49-21 vote sends the bill to Gov. Butch Otter. But even if Otter were to veto the bill, it passed by more than a two-thirds margin in both the House and the Senate – meaning there’s enough support for it to override any veto. Under the bill, the machines would become illegal July 1.
Idaho lawmakers voted in 2013 to authorize wagering on “historical horse racing” terminals, which were described as devices that would show re-broadcasts of previously run horse races. Instead, a year later, the machines that arrived looked and acted like slot machines, with a tiny screen displaying the final seconds of a horse race each time the reels spun. The Greyhound Park has 35 of the machines; there are more than 200 at Les Bois Park near Boise, and more than 50 at the Double Down Betting Bar & Grill in Idaho Falls, which is affiliated with the Sandy Downs racetrack.
Horse racing boosters pushed for the machines to help underwrite their industry, which they said won’t survive otherwise. But lawmakers said they were deceived. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe proposed the repeal after the abrupt resignation of Idaho State Racing Commission Executive Director Frank Lamb, who had pushed for the 2013 law, amid revelations that he also was a paid lobbyist for a company operating the machines in Wyoming.
“We’ve heard we need to save the horse racing industry. My question to all of you ladies and gentlemen here, is how many other industries do we want to help survive by allowing them to go into the gaming industry?” said Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa. “This is gaming, this is gambling, and we made a mistake by allowing it to expand in Idaho, and I think it’s time we repeal it.”
Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, sponsor of the 2013 law, urged the House not to support the bill, saying gambling in Idaho is a reality.
“We offer it at the state level, we offer it at the tribal level and we have a private business that has asked to do it too,” she said. “I don’t understand why we are OK with wiping out people’s investments and wiping out people’s jobs.”
Rep. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls, said he thought lawmakers were depriving the operators of instant racing machines of their right to due process of law, by not waiting for results of a Post Falls Police Department investigation into the legality of the machines.
“If tribal gaming machines are constitutional, then isn’t it possible so are historical racing machines?” he asked the House. But Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, said if lawmakers waited for courts to rule instant racing machines illegal, they’d still see the same impacts.
“The longer this goes on, the bigger the stakes,” he said. “So it’s better we go back to the drawing board right now than to let this drag on.”
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, spoke repeatedly against the bill in the House debate, which stretched for two hours Thursday, running through the noon hour despite lawmakers’ hunger pangs.
“Here we have an opportunity for an industry, an obviously struggling industry, to pay for itself,” he said. “Is it reasonable to cut this industry at the knees?”
Chief Allan, chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, praised the legislature in a statement after the vote.
“We know this was difficult for some with so much riding on the outcome, and we appreciate that they took the time to thoroughly examine the matter and separate facts from emotion.”
John Sheldon, president of Treasure Valley Racing, operator of Les Bois Park, called it “a very disappointing day for Idaho,” and urged Otter to veto the bill.
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